Welcome to MarieClaire.com's Q&A author series—the spot where we ask the #ReadWithMC author-of-the-month five burning questions about her latest book. In August, we're reading Mrs. Everything by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner. If you're interested in the novel and looking for some friends to talk about it with, find out how to participate in MarieClaire.com's interactive monthly book club here.
You've known it and you've felt it: Women are led to believe they need to "have it all." But what if the life you're living turns out to be the opposite of what you've always dreamed of? In her latest novel, Mrs. Everything, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner explores the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman, growing up in 1950s Detroit who experience just that.
With an epic 21-book roster (you've likely heard of Weiner's 2001 Good in Bed and 2002 In Her Shoes), Weiner describes Mrs. Everything as "her most ambitious book yet," detailing the complex lives of Jo and Bethie across decades—not an easy feat, but if anybody can pull it off, it's Weiner. Especially when it's loosely based on her own mother's real-life story.
"My mom grew up in Detroit, went to the University of Michigan, married a man, had four kids, and lived in the suburbs of Connecticut. She got divorced in the 80s and then, in the 90s, fell in love with a woman. We were all aghast," explains Weiner. "I’ve always thought about what it must have been like for her, because when she was a young woman, there wasn’t the kind of acceptance there is now, the kind of awareness there is now—homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. I thought about how it must be for her to look at the world now and see how much it’s changed, and how awful it must be for her to think about it going backwards."
Weiner believes it's important for readers to understand what life was like for women in America during a period the current administration refers to as "great" (spoiler: it wasn't), and wants them to know it's time for women to take control of their own narratives.
Marie Claire: What inspired you to write Mrs. Everything?
Jennifer Weiner: The 2016 election. Like many women, I thought we were going to wake up the morning after election day in one America, and instead we all woke up in another America. I wanted to write a book that spoke to women’s issues and looked at women’s history and talked about where we’ve been and where we are now and where we need to go next. This is the biggest, most ambitious [book] I’ve ever done—it takes place over 70 years. With this one, I wanted to consider the whole span of history.
MC: What makes your book timely? Why should people read it now?
JW: We're at a critical moment in United States history and—to use the really bad cliché—we’re at a crossroads. We’re in a moment where we’re deciding what America is going to look like: who’s going to have rights and privileges and who isn’t. If I could give someone a reason to read this book, I’d tell them, “Let me show you what it would be like if we were to go back to the time that people refer to when they talk about ‘making America great again.’ Let me show you what the '50s and the '60s were like for women. Your mother and your sisters have lived in a world that didn’t always let them be completely who they are. If we go back in terms of reproductive rights, the way we see and treat women in the world, and whether we believe their stories or not...let me show you what would happen.”
MC: If you could be one character in the book, who would you be and why?
JW: I think I’d be Lila just because she’s the youngest and has the most opportunity and the most freedom in front of her, even though that freedom can turn into its own kind of burden, where there’s so much pressure for women to have it all. You end up just beating yourself up and feeling terrible for dropping the ball or not doing things perfectly or being with your kids when you were supposed to be working or working when you should’ve been with your kids—all of these choices have left women in a place where it feels like if you don’t do it all, you’re letting down the team. Women judge themselves so harshly. Perfectionism can kill. It can paralyze you.
MC: Who would play the main characters in a movie? Cast your protagonist and antagonist.
JW: That’s such a good question! I love Beanie Feldstein, who was in Booksmart and Lady Bird, and I think she’d be such a great Bethie. The problem is that you’ve got these characters going from girls to old women, so I don’t even know how you would handle that. God...who would be Jo? Somebody tall and tomboyish. Maybe Kate Winslet? She can pretty much do anything.
I never ever write books thinking, Oh, this could be a movie! because I think that it could really impact the way that you write and where you let yourself go. If I had been thinking about turning Mrs. Everything into a movie [while writing it], I wouldn’t have it go over 20 years. That way, you wouldn’t have to worry about getting someone to play a 25-year-old and a 65-year-old.
MC: What's currently on your nightstand?
I just started Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I’ve heard such good things about it, and I’m obviously very interested in the subject [women's sex lives]. I just finished Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, which I loved. It was a thriller, and I normally don’t read thrillers, but it was so smart and so well done. And I loved Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I thought it was just so raw and so real and didn’t shy away from mental health stuff. I just thought it was great.
Audiobook excerpts courtesy of Simon & Schuster Audio from MRS. EVERYTHING by Jennifer Weiner, read by Ari Graynor and Beth Malone. Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Weiner, Inc. Used with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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